Salary negotiation…the only optional stage of a job search. Getting a job offer takes a great deal of energy and the relief of having an offer can tempt you to simply accept and be done with it all. However, if you push through at this point, not only could it mean higher earnings (both now and throughout your career) but also more job satisfaction, better engagement and longevity in your new role. A survey by Salary.com found that only 37% of people always negotiate their salaries and 18% never do. We also see vastly more men negotiating first salaries (57%) than the 7% of women who do. (Babcock, 2013)
A universal truth in successful job hunting is that preparation, introspection and practice will always help you enter each task with strength and confidence, allowing you to present yourself in a mature, congenial way. There is no stage of landing a new job that demands these characteristics more than negotiating salary. Offers come relatively quickly once final interviews have concluded, which may not give you the needed time to fully prepare for negotiation. Therefore, a great way to spend the frustratingly slow-moving time between application and interview is to get crystal clear on the value you bring to the role, what that value commands in the market and what your expectations and priorities are in terms of compensation.
Steps for Negotiating
To begin, here is a basic outline of steps to prepare for negotiating your salary and benefits:
Preparing to Negotiate
Outline What Your Actual Needs Are
Part of negotiating your salary is knowing your “walk away” number, below which you would not be able to make ends meet and/or would not be satisfied as you perform the role. Beyond your walk away number, decide what salary figure you need to support your life and save for retirement, emergencies and other goals you may have. To begin, make a spreadsheet with foundational expenses such as:
Then think through your savings needs:
Being able to meet all your spending and saving goals may be something you have to build to, especially when accepting that first role outside of academia. However, getting clarity on your absolute needs and financial goals is crucial to anticipating what type of salary you should be planning to pursue.
Know Typical Salary Ranges
Your work is easy should the employer include the salary range for the position within the posting. At the writing of this guide, providing salary information in postings is not required and, therefore, employers vary greatly in their practice of including this information. Should you need to estimate a range, it is best to consult several sources to build out a range as many factors contribute to compensation figures. We suggest consulting, at minimum, 3 sources for this information:
PayScale.com and Salary.com both offer general ranges for job titles with some cross referencing of region, industry, etc.Glassdoor allows you to look up anonymously-provided salaries for specific jobs at specific companies. Their information is fantastic for knowing how particular companies pay, but if the company is small or new, there may not be data for your role as those figures are provided by current or past employees. GlassDoor company-specific salaries by job title.
Know Your Market Value
There are many variables that can impact where you land in a salary range. As you get further into your search and are applying to specific roles or considering an actual offer, personalized salary reports (which take into account many additional factors like experience, reporting structure, additional in-demand skills, education level, etc.) can provide a valuable assessment of what salary you can command in a role. PayScale.com's personalized salary reports have various options: 1) Evaluating your current pay 2) Evaluating a job offer 3) General research on “what you’re worth”. At the time of this writing, you can get 5 free reports for various roles.
Evaluate Your Leverage
Once you have a range to work with, negotiation preparation is a logical process of comparing your skills, experience and contributions to what is required in the job description. If you barely meet minimum qualifications or are brand new to the field/type of role, you should anticipate being near the bottom of the pay range. If you meet preferred qualifications and bring additional highly-relevant skills, prestige or knowledge, you can make a strong argument for pay near the top of the range.To evaluate your leverage, first refer back to the position description as well as any notes you have from conversations about goals and expectations of the role.
- Compare your qualifications to those asked for in the description, note where you bring more or less than asked for.
- List out any additional responsibilities covered in conversations but not the job description. Do you have experience/skills to help you accomplish those goals?
- List out any skills, knowledge, connections, experience you have in addition to what was asked for. These elements will be your leverage for higher pay. Remember, anything you use here needs to directly benefit the company or team. Anything impressive but unrelated to this role does not belong in a negotiation conversation.
Set Priorities for Your Negotiation
Salary is not the only element of your compensation and benefits package that is negotiable. Almost everything is negotiable. Even in sectors or companies where pay ranges and paid time off (PTO) are standardized, other elements can be negotiated. When considering what you will negotiate, choose 2-4 elements that are priorities for you and focus on those. It is not advised to attempt to negotiate every element of an offer. Targeting your discussion to areas that matter to you personally (and in which the company is able to flex for you) will keep your discussion productive.
Be Willing to Fight for What You Need
Often people find it hard to negotiate for themselves. If that is you, focus internally on those your salary will be impacting. Steph Stern writing for The Muse says:
“In preparing to negotiate, think about how what you’re asking for will impact those around you: It’s not just for you, but also for your family and your future. It’s even for your employer! After all, if you are happier with your position and compensation, you’re more likely to work hard and be successful.” (Stern, 2019)
Find the inspiration to give this process your all by focusing long-term and considering how you being satisfied with the agreement will positively impact your relationship with the company and your overall life.
When the Offer is Made
Evaluating the Offer
Negotiation happens when you have a complete job offer in front of you. Do not accept a role without understanding all elements of compensation. Your salary is only truly understood when put in context of the full benefits package. Ask for the offer – and any related benefits - in writing so you have something to refer to as you evaluate it. After all, this is what the company is promising you to enter into an employment contract with them. Potential additions to salary may include the following:
Potential Components of the Offer
Choose the elements that are most important/impactful to you and focus there as you discuss how to make this offer most appealing to you.
In the Conversation
Shift from Personal Reasons to Logical Considerations
The key when in the negotiation is to not view this process through an emotional or personal lens. The conversation is not about your personal needs or worth as a human. It is about the value you can bring to the company and being fairly compensated – based on market value - for your contribution. Come to the negotiating table as a congenial colleague who is confident in two things:
- What you have to offer in this role
- The belief that you can come to an agreement that works for both you and the company
Communicating About Changes to the Offer
Mindset is centrally important to this process. Enter the conversation knowing you are the candidate they have chosen and owning your position as a valued colleague. You have convinced them of your worth, now you remember it! Also, negotiation is intimidating to most candidates, but the company is committed to bringing you on. So come to the table trusting that you will be able to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. Recognize that, most likely, you will both need to give a little. As Victoria Pynchon, of She Negotiates, mentions in a guest post for The Muse:
"Bring as much of your own personality, tempered emotion, respect for your negotiation partner, and optimism about your ability to reach agreement as you can."
View the conversation from the other person’s perspective and communicate about changes with understanding, respect and an attitude of working together. Reiterate your excitement for the role and commitment to making this a win/win for the both of you. Lead with curiosity and a readiness to collaborate, asking questions to make sure you understand what their priorities are. Consider the following scripts for ideas about how to phrase your “asks”.
If an offer is below what you’d like:
“I’m really excited to work here, and I know that I will bring a lot of value. I appreciate the offer at $58,000, but was really expecting to be in the $65,000 range based on my experience, drive, and performance. Can we look at a salary of $65,000 for this position?” (Thorman, 2013)
If the company rep seems to flinch at a number you suggest:
“Seems like that took you by surprise. Tell me more…”; “Can you help me understand what the budget for this position is based on?” or; “How can I help you move more in my direction?” (Pynchon, 2013)
Tips to Stay Focused in the Conversation
Timeline for Decision-Making
Once a company has decided on you as their preferred candidate, they will want to “seal the deal” as quickly as possible, but they also understand it is a big decision for you. As mentioned above, never accept an offer without time to consider the elements and ask for anything you need changed to be satisfied with the opportunity. A few days to a week to make your decision is standard and you should provide any questions or requests for changes to the offer within the first 48 hours at most. At times, companies with aggressive hiring practices may give you a short timeframe to make your decision. You may also be able to ask for a little more time to decide if you are waiting on additional information. Try to be as collaborative and open as you can…these are, potentially, your new colleagues.
The moral of the negotiation story is, you must come to the table prepared, with a collaborative, confident mindset and focused on your potential contribution to the company. You are not an “inexperienced” novice. You are an academic who is pivoting to a new sector/role at worst, a highly trained expert at best. No matter what position you come to the table in, you can do so as a mature colleague and the process of negotiation can usher you into a new role with satisfaction and excitement.
If you have the option (not locked into a numerical value on an application form) state that you would like to understand more about the role before identifying a pay range but that you are confident you will be able to come to an agreement you are both happy with. If you are locked into providing a number, use a range rather than one figure early in the process. Keep the bottom of the range well above your walk-away number.
As long as it is above your “walk away” number, focus on the other elements of your offer that are meaningful to you.
At the time of this writing, this question is legal (although arguably unethical). However, you do not need to disclose your current salary. After all, this is likely a different role and what you are paid in your current job is not relevant. Note: there are rare cases where companies viewed an unwillingness to answer this question negatively, but hiring practices hinging on information like this are unethical and an indication of poor business practice. It is ultimately your decision to disclose or refuse, just know that there are risks either way.
It is very rare that offers are rescinded in normal hiring conditions and it is almost never due to negotiation issues. To make sure you don’t run that risk, come to the negotiation from a place of respect and with a commitment to consider the major priorities of your partner as well as making sure your needs are met.
You need to end your job search once you accept an offer. Rarely is timing perfect when pursuing multiple opportunities and you must be ready to pull out of other interviews if you commit to a company. Accepting a role is not a back-up plan. So, if you find yourself in the common position of having an offer on the table before your “ideal” opportunity is offered, you need to make the tough decision of whether the current offer is compelling enough for you to end your search. If it is not, don’t accept the position.
Schedule an individual appointment to meet with a Graduate Student and Postdoc Career Advisor at CU Boulder Career Services.
A sincere thank you to these resources for topical insight: